Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009) Oh, This Ought To Be Fun To Write About

I recall first hearing about The Human Centipede (First Sequence) a couple years ago and thought it was an interesting idea:  crazy doctor attaches people at sensitive areas to create one big digestive tract and therefore, a "human centipede."  I imagined it would be something strange, something that would have a hard time making the rounds because really, who'd want to be the distributor who put out something that over-the-top?  Well, IFC Films - as they often do - took the chance and put out this movie here in the United States, and honestly, its bark was worse than its bite.

You'd think that a movie like this, with its wild medical horror premise, would be a big, insane, bloody mess.  It's actually nothing of the sort.  The idea of what's happening to the victims in the film is actually worse than the execution.  Kind of like how the idea of getting punished when you're a kid is often worse than the actual punishment.  The movie isn't what you think it is.

It goes a little like this (some minor spoilers abound):

Two American tourists in Germany, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie), find themselves stranded when their car breaks down.  They stumble across the abode of a real "people person," Dr. Josef Heiter (Dieter Laser), who drugs their drinks and confines them to his homemade basement hospital room, which they share with a trapped trucker (Rene de Wit).  Dr. Heiter proclaims the trucker an unfit "match" and quietly kills him by poisoning his IV.  He kidnaps another hapless guy, a Japanese tourist named Katsuro (Akihiro Kitamura), and sets about creating his special science project for the Mad Scientist Science Fair.  Lindsay almost escapes at one point but is captured.  Her punishment?  To be the "middle section" of the creature Dr. Heiter wants to create - one with one continuous digestive tract.  Yeah, you do the math.

The operation goes as planned and Dr. Heiter has his creature.  He tries to train it to bring him the paper and otherwise be obedient, but come on.  Would you want to take orders after all that?  Before long, Jenny appears to be dying of blood poisoning, with her stitches becoming infected.  Heiter contemplates bringing in some new "segments" just as a pair of policemen show up to question him about some missing tourists.  Heiter is less than honest and just a tad quirky.  He grows a couple of brass ones and actually slips the policemen some of the same knockout drug, although only one ingests it.

The three tourists try to escape, nearly making it out the window after incapacitating Heiter for a time.  Then Katsuro loses the last bit of his mind and takes the glass-shard-to-the-throat way out.  The police return and have a fatal showdown with the crazed Heiter.  Jenny finally succumbs to her infections, leaving Lindsay alone, the middle segment, with everyone dead around her.

That's pretty much it.  It's not overly gory, and the disgusting parts are more hidden or implied rather than "in your face," not to be funny about it.  Okay, that was a little funny.  Anyway, like I said, it's the idea of what the operation is, what it means, and how it plays out that is more stomach-churning than what you actually see.  Don't get me wrong:  this isn't a heart-warming family movie to which you could gather the kids around and eat popcorn and then discuss life lessons when it's over.  It's a gimmick movie and there's no bones about it.

I didn't find it terrible, nor did I find it amazing.  The best part of the whole thing, believe it or not, was the suspense.  Writer/director Tom Six actually does a fine job creating tension in such scenes as the attempted escapes and the final showdown with the police.  Simple but effective use of set and lighting as well as timing made for some very good scenes of suspense that had nothing to do with how disgusting anything was.  The other part I found quite good was the villainous lead of Dr. Heiter as played by the spooky-looking Dieter Laser.  Laser looks emaciated, harsh, and mad in the eyes - he plays Heiter to the hilt.  You truly want to see him get his - just a completely amoral character who only wishes to please his own mega-twisted fantasies.

Bottom line:  The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is not a movie they'll show on ABC Family any time soon.  If you're angry that it exists, well, then don't watch it.  The sequel is apparently everything the first movie isn't and more, and I'll thank the numerous reviewers who threw themselves on the proverbial grenade and watched it.  This first film is not as bad as you might think, but not the end-all be-all of horror films.

Plus, it doesn't really help to watch it just before you go to the hospital for a couple nights.  I was watching everyone who came into my room suspiciously.

Thanks, medical horror movies.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) All In The Family

I know, I'm sure some reviewer has made that joke-reference somewhere, but hey.

In 2007, Paranormal Activity - in its own way - became the Blair Witch Project of the modern era:  a shoestring-budget picture that became a cash cow.  2010 brought the sequel, Paranormal Activity 2, and it turned out to be very entertaining as well as hinting as a deeper story.  Well, that deeper story came along in 2011's Paranormal Activity 3, and I must say, it was pretty intriguing.

With direction from Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and written by Christopher Landon, the film begins with a prologue.  Consistent with the semi-parallel storytelling from the first sequel, we're treated to sisters Katie and Kristi (Katie Featherstone and Sprague Grayden reprising their roles) sometime before the craziness really kicks in during the first film.  Katie asks Kristi to store some old stuff, including some old video tapes.  When the house is messed up in the second film, that's when those tapes disappear.  That's when we're taken to the past via tapes from 1988.  Katie and Kristi are little girls, enjoying life with their mother, Julie, and her boyfriend, Dennis, a wedding videographer...convenient, I know.  After an earthquake occurs on-camera (Julie and Dennis were trying to make a "special" tape), Dennis sees a startling image and excitedly begins trying to capture it again.  He sets up his cameras all over the house and reviews the footage the next day.  In one segment, he sees Kristi whispering to someone off-screen where no one should be.  Later, he finds out that she was talking to an imaginary friend, Toby.  Although, Kristi swears he's not imaginary.  In this movie, that's a pretty glaring red flag.

More cameras (the oscillating fan camera is pretty sweet) and more strange things afoot as evidence makes itself pretty known.  The "ghost under the sheet"?  Yeah, you'll know what I'm talking about.  Dennis continues his investigation, and thanks to some "choppy" editing, we never really know the full story of the house and where it sits.  After a terrifying incident with the closet, he discovers an odd symbol drawn inside.  He connects it to an ancient witches' coven that once occupied the area, and he doesn't like the proximity to the girls he thinks of as daughters.  Julie is still skeptical, even when seeing some of the weird stuff herself.  It's when she has a...shall we moment, that she insists they leave and head for her mother's.

They do just that, but Dennis doesn't stop filming.  Good thing, because the camera starts catching little things, like Kristi's seemingly innocent "preparation."  At night, awakened by the sound of arriving cars, Dennis follows Julie into the darkened house.  Along the way, he discovers truths that he would shortly wish he hadn't discovered.  Getting out of the house with his daughters is the priority, but well, it's not a spoiler to say that doesn't happen.  Things that occur in the first two films make sense by the end, and it all comes together if you've paid attention to the clues.

I've always been somewhat lukewarm to the hype that Paranormal Activity but that's the fault of the films.  The more I think about them, the more I do realize their pure entertainment appeal.  It's a simple formula:  cameras set up, things escalate, some truths are uncovered, things get worse, climactic incident, silent denouement.  But sometimes, simplicity is just what's needed.  If the movies strayed too much from the norm, from what works, it would seem to convoluted or even pandering.  I do like the movies, individually and as a trilogy.  I like that the scares are obviously coming - that camera's going to show something and you know it.  I really like the ambient music that slowly creeps into a scene, indicating something's about to happen, but you just don't know when or what it will be.

It's just good fun.  Sometimes that's good enough.

So, hey, until the next time - I do hear there's another sequel in the works - enjoy the trailer, even if it does show a lot of things that don't appear in the theatrical release: